Drug abuse is common in people of all ages, especially among college students. Substance abuse at a young age increases the risk of addiction and all the complications it causes. For that reason, it’s important to shed more light on drug abuse during college, its prevalence, common risk factors, and how to help a college student with substance use disorder (SUD). Read on to learn more about this subject.
Prevalence Of Drug Abuse In College
Numbers show around 31% of the U.S. college students report alcohol abuse symptoms. More than two in five students reported at least one symptom of dependence or abuse, in one study. Around 80% of students have abused alcohol.
College students use other addictive substances, not just alcohol. For example, 5.2% of them use hallucinogens such as LSD, 5.3% use cocaine, and 3.5% use tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax.
In 2018, about 45% of students used an illicit drug. Basically, almost half of students in the U.S. used an addictive substance, which perfectly describes the severity of the problem.
1. Symptoms Of Drug Abuse In College
Symptoms of drug abuse depend greatly on the type of substance and other factors such as quantity and frequency of use. Other factors such as life stressors and overall health also play a role in specific symptoms of this problem.
While drug abuse affects everyone differently, college students usually exhibit the following symptoms:
- Irritability and mood swings
- Behavior and personality changes
- Weight fluctuations
- Impaired sleeping pattern
- Engaging in risky activities to obtain drugs or under the influence
- Decreased productivity and academic performance, poor grades
- Lack of interest in classes and extracurricular activities
- Spending more time with other students known for drug abuse
- Engaging in binge drinking sessions
- Changes in appearance and hygiene
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2. Causes And Risk Factors For Drug Abuse In College
Generally speaking, the causes of drug abuse can be biological, psychological, and environmental. Biological causes involve the brain’s reward system triggered by the release of dopamine when a person uses a drug. This induces feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
As a result, an affected person uses the drug again to experience the same effect. In the meantime, dopamine receptors become less expressed due to continued drug use, which leads to taking higher doses, which can cause tolerance, abuse, and addiction.
Psychological causes are comorbid mental health problems. Environmental causes revolve around family life and social life and functioning.
While every college student can develop drug abuse and addiction, some are at a higher risk than others. The main risk factors for drug abuse in college include:
Risk Factors For Drug Abuse In College
- Stress caused by high demands of coursework, internships, and other obligations
- Heavy course load
- Curiosity and desire to experiment with drugs and other substances while in college
- Peer pressure
- Fear of being left out
- Presence of other substance use disorders
- Easy access to drugs and alcohol
- Family history of substance abuse
- Fraternity and sorority members
- Fraternity and sorority members
- Being an on-campus or dorm resident
- Being a male
- Perceiving substance use by their peers as normative
3. Common Drugs Of Abuse In College
Factors that influence which drugs are abused among college students include shifts in public perception of drugs, price, legislation changes, and availability of the drug. The most frequently taken substance in colleges is alcohol because it is often socially acceptable.
On some campuses, the use of marijuana is a lot more common than alcohol. Students take cannabis to achieve the “high” effect that provides relaxation.
To cope with the heavy course load and other stressors of college life, many students take Adderall and other stimulants.
Students also widely take ecstasy or MDMA and Molly at concerts or parties. They take these drugs to have more fun and distort their reality and senses.
In many cases, college students use multiple substances. Some of them may even go so far as to take alcohol and prescription drugs or other addictive substances, which can lead to serious complications.
4. Consequences Of Drug Abuse In College
Even though drug abuse in college is often glorified and considered to be the “normal” part of a student’s life, that’s not the case. Drug abuse can increase the risk of dependence and addiction.
As the problem continues, its consequences may escalate. Drug abuse can affect both physical and psychological health. Common effects of substance abuse in college include cardiovascular disease, mental illness, liver and kidney disease, organ damage, and poor academic performance and outcomes.
Drug abuse can affect relationships with other people, especially if those people express concerns about drug-using behavior.
5. Treatment Of Drug Abuse In College
Drug abuse is manageable. Nowadays, there are different screening and intervention tools and programs that educate students about the harms of drug abuse and help them reduce risky behaviors. Good examples are Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) and the College Drinker’s Check-up.
The exact treatment course of drug abuse depends on the substance and the severity of the problem. Avoiding high-risk situations and locations plays an important role in the treatment of drug abuse in students. That means they need to avoid colleagues, dorms, and other places or people that contribute to their substance abuse behavior.
The first step of the treatment of severe drug abuse is detox, performed under medical supervision. This isn’t something a student should do on their own due to various withdrawal symptoms.
The cornerstone of substance abuse treatment is behavioral therapy which teaches patients to identify negative thought patterns and behaviors in order to replace them with positives. Patients also learn to cope with stressors in a healthy way.
Successful treatment of substance abuse also implies addressing co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorder, and bipolar disorder.
Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs are available. The exact choice depends on how serious the problem is.
Drug abuse is common in college students. Some students use drugs because they want to experiment, others to deal with stress, and some of them due to peer pressure. While drug abuse in college is glorified, it needs to be treated adequately. Proper treatment prevents more serious complications.